By Tabia Princewill
DESPITE our desire to “pray our problems away” in Nigeria, until we accept to take concrete action in regards to certain issues, we will continue to fall short of our hopes and expectations of progress. Many proverbs around the world exemplify the need to accompany prayer with labour and perseverance, such as “trust in God but tie your camel” or the Biblical: “He who works his land will have food but he who chases fantasies lacks judgement” (Proverbs 12:11) and “Indeed Allah will not change the conditions of a population until they change what is in themselves” (Quran 13:11).
Not only do we in Nigeria chase fantasies and expect manna to drop from heaven and refuse to see (or act upon) our collective faults, we have whole heartedly embraced dubious characters as the taste makers and influencers of our society. They sit on the front pews in church, no matter what the allegations stacked against them are, they are invited to seminars and conferences to proffer solutions to socio-economic problems they create and are on the covers of magazines despite having never worked an honest day in their lives. Evans’ picture could have been included in any of the popular Sunday magazines in Nigeria. His son or daughter’s graduation could have aired on television. This is how empty and decrepit, devoid of meaning our media has become. He might have been given a chieftaincy title in his village and the pictures could have appeared everywhere, including social media. This is how empty our traditional institutions, meant to recognise truly successful and productive individuals, have become.
Evans might even have run for governor or senator at some point, had he not been caught and this for me is the most horrifying part of the story. There are already so many “Evans’s” in Nigerian politics. Men and women of unexplained wealth who are rumoured to have made their money in the most dubious of circumstances. Why are we surprised that they don’t pursue power in order to make a difference in our lives but rather to enrich themselves further? People would have voted for Evans, encouraged by his hand-outs, silenced into submission. They would even have held placards in his defence, even if audio tapes featuring him describing his misdeeds surfaced or if the EFCC arrested him and charged him to court. Some people would talk about his human rights being infringed even if there was proof that he had bribed the court to obtain freedom.
So, a man who started out as a kidnapper would suddenly become blameless, a good Christian, etc., by virtue of joining politics and “sharing” money with a few loud mouths with the clout to defend him while he would have continued to hurt the masses. Evans could have embezzled his state’s budget, or been caught doing so and some people would still say “we are marginalised. We need Evans to get into power at the federal level”, forgetting that he (or those like him) are the true cause of marginalisation and poverty rather than ethnicity. The political Evans’s rob their states blind yet always find people to excuse their behaviour, even when they bribe judges and buy elections. It’s a pathetic situation, one where the same group of people prospers and profits while ironically, those who should hate the Evans’s of this world, are the first to hail him.
This is why when the Evans story broke and he was called a “genius” I was saddened but not surprised. Our misuse of the term “genius” itself is telling. A genius is a brilliant mind, someone to be copied, a person whose “flair” for business, for example, is admired, or whose artistic gifts are being praised. It is a supreme irony to claim that anyone has a knack for kidnapping, which is what calling Evans a genius means. Is kidnapping now an occupation on the same level of comparison as journalist, doctor or teacher? There cannot (or should not), by definition, by virtue of basic decency and respect for those lives Evans has traumatised, be any “genius” or outstanding ability associated with the idea of kidnapping because it is neither a vocation nor a craft with a measurable, appreciable or praise-worthy skill set given that it is illegal (not to talk of immoral) to hold anyone against their will in exchange for a ransom. No one is born a kidnapper, unlike being born with the talents of a journalist, artist etc. One can’t say “Genius billionaire kidnapper” the same way one would say “genius billionaire entrepreneur!” without acknowledging the folly of the system that birthed such a senseless thought process. At least not in a society which hopes to function normally.
I’ve been embarrassed by questions from expatriates following the story. How does such a man extorting huge sums in foreign currency just casually live in an affluent suburb known to all, they asked. It wouldn’t be possible in the United States, the United Kingdom or other such countries.
How could he have been donating to charities and lavishly participating in the life of his community, giving gifts, tithes etc., without questions being asked as to the source of his funds? First of all, in most countries, anyone who carries cash above a certain amount is a suspect.
But in a country where billions of Naira sit in apartments or sewers, I suppose we have lost the ability to be shocked by such, and more notably, greed makes us accept any and everything without question. Why is money the only acceptable form of success in Nigeria? What happened to intellectualism and critical thinking? What happened to asking questions, digging deep and questioning the status quo?
The military has a lot to answer for. They destroyed our universities, sent many of our intellectuals abroad and made Nigerians afraid to think. This is perhaps their greatest legacy. Evans and the landlords or warlords of the Nigerian political system are the military’s gift: they normalise crime. It’s largely the fault of military rule if today anything goes in Nigeria but when do we begin to do something about it? The tragedy here is that Evans himself is a victim of the system. No one dreams of becoming a kidnapper; the system and its lack of opportunity turns many youths into criminals who grow in confidence and daring, till they eventually join the ultimate gang of kidnappers, the Nigerian political elite, first as a tout or junior officer till they call the shots themselves. When we’re done “ooing” and “aahing” over Evans’ riches, when we’re done defending the same politicians and former Evans’s holding us back, then we’ll have a country again.
NIGERIA is held hostage by kidnappers, the sort even Evans fears: blackmailers, alleged anticipatory looters rumoured to declare false assets in preparation for more hostage taking.
The EFCC should engage private lawyers, if it must; many are for sale, bought by the highest bidder, no matter what side of good and evil the client or his narrative lies.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.